Wayne State law students recognized for tax expertise

By Mike Scott

Legal News

Tax lawyers remain in demand despite a struggling economy. This is particularly good news for two Wayne State Law School students with diverse workplace backgrounds who received acclaim last month for their tax expertise and knowledge.

Students Bethany Ansorge and Steven Williams were recognized as outstanding tax law students by the Wayne Law Tax faculty and were honored at the Annual Tax Conference on May 20. The Tax Conference was co-sponsored by the Tax Section of the State Bar of Michigan and the Institute for Continuing Legal Education.

The students each have taken a non-traditional path to law school.

Ansorge works in the tax software department at Thomson Reuters in Dexter and always envisioned going back to law school when she first began working at the company nearly a decade ago. But instead of going back full time, Ansorge was provided with a flexible schedule allowing her to take eight credits a semester while still working a 40-hour week.

Ansorge has thrived at Wayne State and recently was recognized for her independent study course with Professor Alan Schenk related to "zappers," or automated sales suppression devices. This type of tax fraud refers to skimming the cash sales that pass through point of sale systems and network connected electronic cash registers.

As she finished her paper, Ansorge shared the result with Michigan State Supreme Court Judge Maura Corrigan, who likely will reference Ansorge's work in the coming months.

"Justice Corrigan is particularly concerned with how businesses might be trying to avoid their liability by skimming and other such illegal activities," Schenk said.

Having worked in the software industry, Ansorge became interested in the topic of zappers, which can use existing, legal software or customized software programs designed specifically for malicious intent, Ansorge said.

The most well-known "zappers" case to date likely has been The La Shish case in Detroit, which eventually revealed a $20 million zapper-assisted tax fraud at 13 La Shish restaurant locations around the metro area. The owner, Talal Chahine, remains a fugitive from U.S. authorities with a warrant issued for his arrest. This four-year fraud allegedly channeled its proceeds in small denomination cashier's checks to fund Hezbollah terrorists.

"I think the important thing is really educating not just business owners about the process of zappers, but to inform law enforcement as well," Ansorge said. "If you have a situation where this can become a national security concern, then I think you will have overlapping interest among various agencies."

Williams is humbled by the recognition, particularly since the requirements included students who had a "deep understanding of taxation," according to Schenk. A former Marine Corps captain and Iraq War veteran, Williams was never an accountant but early in his law school career he was encouraged to take a tax course. He never looked back.

"Professor Schenk showed us how tax policy impacts every area of the law," Williams said. "If you understand that specialty, you could become involved in all aspects of law."

The tax courses that Williams took helped to better define the specialty. And he believes that tax work remains comparatively steady for lawyers regardless of the troubled state of the economy.

"What's fascinating is that tax policy is really social policy," said Williams, a Novi resident who previously interned with the Novi office of Grand Rapids-based Varnum Riddering Schmidt & Howlett. "You can tell a lot about a country based on its tax policy, such as the way governments implement social programs and business is conducted. This specialty gave me a chance to distinguish myself a bit from the thousands of other law school students."

Ansorge went to Wayne State because her interest in tax law was already piqued while working at Thomson Reuters and she knew that the Detroit-based law school was known for its niche in the field, she said. In her role at the Dexter company, Ansorge has designed software for the Michigan Single Business Tax (SBT).

"When I was 21 years old, I knew I wanted to eventually go to law school but I wouldn't have believed that I would go into tax law," said Ansorge, an Ann Arbor resident. "It may not be a 'rock star' position and maybe you could call me a tax geek, but it is fun."

Like Williams, Ansorge anticipates that tax law is a good specialty to have in this job market, where despite economic challenges, demand remains high nationwide. She graduates later this year.

"I do get the impression that tax is a good place to be right now," Ansorge said. "The laws always change and I get the idea that many of my colleagues (who graduated and passed the bar) haven't had as much difficulty in finding a job in tax."

Williams will serve as an intern with the Area Council's Office of the Internal Revenue Service this summer. He has worked on IRS-related pro bono cases over the past year and has helped clients to negotiate with tax payer advocates so that workable payment plans could be developed. He will graduate at the end of this year.

"(The IRS) would be one of my first choices for a job if that is available," Williams said, citing his experience already achieved with the service. "But outside of that, I might consider hanging up my own shingle and helping people with their tax (issues)."

Both students have gone to great lengths in their law school careers to display a high level of expertise and knowledge in tax law, Schenk said. All law school students are challenged by the effects of the soft labor market, so an even higher premium is being placed on performance.

"These are both exceptional students that warrant this tremendous honor," Schenk said. "They are leaders in their class and really have embraced the idea of becoming experts in tax law."

Published: Mon, Jun 7, 2010


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